Despite the huge fanfare and the presence of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh at today’s opening of London Zoo’s “Gorilla Kingdom”, I’m very sceptical about this new enclosure, described by the Zoo as ‘the most important development in the zoo for 40 years’, and whether it will deliver real benefits to gorilla conservation and public education..
Of course, I hope that the increased space and more diverse environment will bring welfare benefits to the inmates but London Zoo talks about the conservation benefits of this exhibit. No gorillas have been born at the Zoo since 1988. The Zoo also talks about the education benefits, but alongside the captive gorillas, the Zoo is putting up plasma screens showing wild gorillas and their conservation in their natural habitat. I wonder what visitors will make of it when on the one hand they compare what they know about complex wild gorilla society and their rich and varied jungle environment and, on the other, “Gorilla Kingdom” which extends to just over an acre at a cost of more than £5,000,000. I think it will make for uncomfortable viewing.
Some people claim that the “Gorilla Kingdom” is a good use of this huge sum of money – I couldn’t disagree more. Just think what we could do in a critical gorilla habitat for the threatened Eastern Lowland Gorillas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the fragmented Lowland Gorilla populations of West Africa, with even a fraction of that amount.
There are 35,000 Western Lowland gorillas in the wild – there are just three at London Zoo. Even if they successfully breed on “Love Island” (as “Gorilla Kingdom” has been tastelessly nick-named), such breeding will have a negligible impact on the species and could well, in my view, distract public attention and vital resources away from where the battle of Africa’s gorilla’s will be won or lost… in the wild.
All for now…